We're living through unprecedented events. Millions of us are using social distancing while some are in complete isolation. Entire institutions have ground to a halt. Shutdowns are the norm. Many are unsure where their next paycheck will come from. Others are confident in their ability to ride this out.
Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle. My future is uncertain; I'm not working for at least a month. The ways in which I'd planned to help my community in person are nixed in light of our household having been potentially exposed. But I'm extremely grateful for a robust immune system and support system; many unfortunately do not have these blessings.
It's strange that spring equinox is nearly here, yet we hunker down as if for the long winter. The crescendo of birdsong outside my window doesn't seem to go with the empty streets. There's a feeling of coming untethered, of free floating, of disconnection. We're left wondering what to do with our pent-up energy and sudden excess free time. We want to go outside but not encounter others. We want to help but not put anyone at risk.
When nature forces us to slow down, cancel our plans, and reflect on our priorities, I believe it's wise not only to listen but to heed that call. We can choose to believe there's a reason for all this, or we can surrender to the utter unknowns. Both reactions are valid. Either way, we can use this opportunity to deeply reconnect with our bodies and our surroundings. So much good, however small or seemingly insignificant, can sprout from that.
Here are a few of my favorite practices for connecting to whatever nature surrounds me in the moment. They each incorporate elements of mindfulness meditation, which, when implemented over time, could boost the immune system. They also get you moving, and regular physical activity can bolster our defenses, too.
All of these can be applied with any degree of nourishing green- from a houseplant or cup a tea to a backyard garden or park. Wherever you choose to practice, please think of others and use your best judgement when it comes to leaving home (review the CDC's recommendations here).
Visit a refreshing green space. Maybe it's the nearest park, your patio, or an open a window with breeze flowing in.
Enter Tāḍāsana, or mountain pose: Stand tall with feet together, grounding evenly. With arms at your sides, palms face forward or in toward your body. Raise up every toe and slowly plant them each back down, from pinky toe to big toe. Elongate the spine, lifting through the crown of your head. Engage the quads (thighs muscles). Release a deep sigh then breathe normally; don't try to control it.
Close your eyes if possible and begin a full-body scan, beginning with your toes all the way up to the crown of your head. Simply check in with every single body part. Don't rush this, but try not to linger too long on any one sensation. Include every inch, especially the bits you may often ignore (armpits, back of the knee, ear lobes, elbows, eyebrows, etc.).
If you discover tension or pain, acknowledge it instead of pushing it away; maybe even silently greet or thank the discomfort. Welcome your body's messages.
Where there is ease, don't cling to or expect anything of it. Just acknowledge it, thank it, too, and move on. Offer yourself some grace if this proves difficult at first; acknowledgement without judgement takes practice.
Once you reach the top of your head, open your eyes and take 3 deep breaths.
Now, close your eyes and begin another full-body scan once again at your toes. This time, however, gently wiggle, shake, roll, or otherwise move each body part as you reach it with your scan (for the neck, avoid rolling it. Shake "no" or nod "yes"). Take a few more seconds on each part this time around.
When you reach the crown of your head, take 3 deep breaths and open your eyes.
Here, "elevated" refers to your consciousness but also your heart rate. For this practice, I want you to really get moving.
Sit with a natural item of your choosing. It could be a plant, a stone, a feather, etc.
Take it in with your senses as you hold it. Notice its weight, shape, texture, color, patterns, tiny details. What feelings arise as you sit with this piece of nature? What thoughts? It's OK if nothing immediately comes up.
Now, get up and start exercising so that you could hold a conversation but only speak about 3-4 words between breaths. You could do jumping jacks, dance, burpees, jog in place, squats, rocket yoga, some combination of these, or whatever. How you move is less important; the goal here is to raise your heart rate, get blood circulating, and elevate your breathing. Keep moving for 5 minutes.
Be still. Catch your breath then sit up straight with your nature item once more.
Breathe deeply. Take it in with your senses. Notice its weight, shape, texture, color, patterns, tiny details. Are you aware of something different? What feelings arise as you sit with it? What thoughts? Has anything new come up?
This practice should inspire you to get moving before creating; promising studies show that regular exercise may improve creativity a variety of ways.
Start by engaging in a novel mode of exercise for at least 20 minutes. If you're a seasoned yogi, try a beginner HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. If cycling's your default, give pilates a go. (As with any new activity, take care. Use extra caution and consult a physician first if you have any injuries or underlying conditions.)
Some timely resources:
Down Dog Yoga app is free until April 1.
Planet Fitness is streaming live workouts every day at 7pm EST while locations are closed.
Tone It Up app is free for the next month.
After your cool-down, grab a pencil and sketchbook and sit outside or by an open window. Let whatever nature comes into view inspire your hand. Acknowledge any feelings of inadequacy or frustration that may arise, then keep going. Draw, sketch, doodle for at least 20 minutes.
I hope one or more of these exercises brings you renewed clarity, connection, and awareness during these difficult days. Comment below to let me know how they went, or add any of your favorite practices to the list.